Attention Network Managers: It’s Time To Shift to a Software-Defined WAN

shifterI’ve done a number of blogs recently on the topic of WAN evolution.  In them, I tried to make the case that a software-defined WAN was a good alternative to a traditional WAN.   I’m changing my stance on this now and stating that the software-defined WAN should be the only type of wide area network that companies should even consider today.  The fact is, legacy WANs simply don’t cut it anymore, and organizations that do not make this shift quickly will eventually have a WAN that’s the biggest barrier to business innovation.

There are a number of reasons why I feel the shift to a software-defined WAN is a necessary today:

  • Applications are growing exponentially.  Many WANs are already running close to capacity with regular business applications and Internet traffic.  Now toss in BYOD, mobile applications. and all the media-rich applications coming down the road and it’s easy to see a scenario where the WAN is saturated.  A software-defined WAN certainly makes managing the WAN traffic easier.
  • Cloud is changing traffic patterns. Earlier this year, I wrote this post on how cloud can break the traditional WAN.  I won’t go into the reasons why cloud breaks the WAN — you can read the original post for that — but I will leave you with this thought:  If cloud is where computing is headed, why would you want to run a WAN that was designed for client-server computing?
  • The WAN is getting increasingly more complex.  The IT environment keeps changing and this drives network change.  However, much of what network managers wind up doing is making ad hoc changes on the fly.  Sometimes it’s a configuration change, but other times it’s adding another appliance.  Whatever the case, the WAN today is far more complex than it was yesterday, and it will continue to grow in complexity until the way the WAN is managed is changed.
  • Too much budget is being used to maintain the WAN.  My research shows that over 80% of the budget allocated to the WAN is used to simply maintain the status quo.  It’s virtually impossible for organizations to respond quickly to business opportunities if the main focus of WAN management is just tweaking and fixing it. An SD WAN can help shift the focus away from managing day to day tasks by automating them and bringing that 80% number way down.

A software-defined WAN can abstract the functions of the WAN up from the actual physical network and allow for business policies to dictate change.  The WAN can then shift from simply being something that connects locations to other locations to a business asset that connects users to applications.

Additionally, the software-defined WAN enables businesses to shift to a hybrid network where the traditional MPLS network can be augmented, or even replaced, with lower-cost Internet connections — or even LTE connections for those that want to leverage high speed wireless technologies — without any kind of degradation in performance.

It seems we’ve been talking about evolving the WAN for years, but prior to the rise of mobile and cloud computing, transforming the WAN was definitely more of a “nice to have”.  Given the changes in IT and the focus on business agility, however, it’s time to make the WAN more agile as well.  Remember, you’re only as agile as your least agile component and that, today, is the WAN.